By Drew Prindle

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At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there — alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the fidget spinners and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. Keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even those with the best intentions — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the “gadget of your dreams.”

January 13

Here’s a quick excerpt from our hands-on review, which ran earlier in the week: “Matrix, a California-based company, is known to use body heat to charge its Indiegogo-funded smartwatches, the PowerWatch and the PowerWatch X. At CES 2019, the company took things a step further with its latest device, the PowerWatch 2, which comes with aesthetic upgrades, along with the ability to juice up with solar power.

The PowerWatch 2 retails for $500 and is now available for pre-order through Indiegogo. As a part of an early-bird promotion, those who do pre-order the device can snag it for $200. One of our main gripes with the original PowerWatch is that it simply didn’t do enough. That has been remedied with the PowerWatch 2, and the work Matrix has done to limit the need to take the watch off to charge it continues to impress.

Robots that teach you how to code are a dime a dozen these days. Most are just a slightly different take on the same exact idea, but Zumi is special. Of all the coding robots we have ever seen, it’s arguably one of the most intriguing. Why? Well, instead of simply teaching you how to code, this little robot teaches you the fundamentals of A.I. and autonomous cars — two things that will soon become an integral skill in tomorrow’s workforce.

“Zmi is the first educational self-driving car kit that will teach you about the concept of artificial intelligence and self-driving car technology in a fun and engaging way.” the creators explain on their Kickstarter campaign page. “With our friendly step-by-step tutorials, you will be able to train her on how to navigate through a miniature map in less than an hour. The more she learns, the better she’ll get.”

Ever since it first debuted in the original Star Wars films, the light saber has been coveted by pretty much everyone — geek or otherwise. The only problem is, unlike most weapons born in the realm of science fiction, lightsabers still don’t exist. We’ve got lasers, electromagnetic pulse cannons, rail guns, and basically every other sci-fi weapon you could ever imagine, but the technology to create a real, working lightsabers doesn’t exist yet. We’re sure it’ll happen eventually, but for now, we’ve got to settle for the next best thing: Waan.

According to its creators, this lightsaber was “designed in France by a team of passionate researchers and designers, with every detail having been studied and scrupulously validated. The handle design, blade strength, easy and quick blade change, all without any tools. But WAAN’s biggest innovation is how its sounds and the perfect responsiveness we achieved whether through its built-in speaker or via Bluetooth. We don’t use embedded pre-recorded sound banks, but a complex algorithm and a powerful DSP (Digital Signal Processor) to generate the audio flow in real time. WAAN is, without a doubt, a truly exceptional lightsaber.”

Here’s a quick cut from our full article: “While most phone cases do a stellar job of protecting handsets when they hit the deck, some drops prove too much, leaving you with a damaged handset and a costly repair bill. To alleviate this issue, an engineering student at Aalen University in Germany has taken it upon himself to design a fully working phone protector that springs into action just before the handset hits the ground.

The German Mechatronics Society was so taken by the design that it awarded the student, Philip Frenzel, a national prize for his efforts. Frenzel’s device comprises a slim case with four prongs located inside each corner. When the sensor detects the phone is falling, the prongs automatically deploy, preventing any part of the phone from hitting the ground. One notable advantage over airbag systems is that the device can be quickly reset by pushing the prongs back inside the case.”

Here’s Jenny McGrath with the scoop: “After we went to check out a new cordless hair dryer at CES 2019, a few of our colleagues were surprised: “Doesn’t that already exist?” It seems like it should. After all, there are cordless curling irons, shavers, and other bathroom appliances — convenient for a room with often limited outlets. But Volo claims its Go Cordless Dryer is the first of its kind.

The Go debuted at last year’s CES, but now it’s live on Kickstarter.. You probably don’t want to turn on the device if your hair is sopping wet, as the cordless dryer only has about 14 minutes of battery life on full power. On medium, it lasts for 24 minutes, but it can run for over an hour on its cool setting. Unlike your typical hair dryer, the Go uses infrared heat. That makes it faster and makes the results less frizzy, according to Jonathan Friedman, co-founder and president of Volo.”

January 6

A.I. assistants are everywhere these days. We have them in our homes (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc.), and we carry them around in our pockets (Siri, Google Assistant). Thing is, the A.I. assistants we use today are still relatively limited in terms of capabilities. They’re essentially just voice-activated answer bots. You ask them a question, and they retrieve an answer from the internet. In other words, they only have ears and brains, and are incapable of seeing or understanding any kind of visual information — which is a pretty big limitation.

Myme is different, though. It’s a wearable A.I. assistant that, unlike Siri and Alexa, is equipped with a camera and a full suite of computer vision algorithms that help it understand the world. Clip it onto your shirt, and it’ll help you do things like remember names and faces of people you meet, monitor your screen time, and auto-add business cards to your contacts. It’s certainly not for everybody, but it’s a new and exciting direction for both wearable tech and A.I. assistants.

Generally speaking, umbrellas aren’t particularly durable. If you get hit with a big gust of wind that turns your umbrella inside out, you’re usually left with a bunch of broken hinges that can’t be repaired easily — thereby forcing you to throw out the umbrella entirely and get a new one. But what if it didn’t have to be like that? What if your umbrella could flex with the wind to avoid breakage?

That’s precisely the idea behind Pluvi — a clever new umbrella that’s designed from the ground up to be more flexible, resilient, and environmentally friendly than any before it. The key innovation is Pluvi’s abandonment of multipart arm/hinge assemblies in favor of a flexible hinge made from a single piece of high-performance polymer. This makes the umbrella far less likely to break, far easier to repair, and therefore far less likely to end up in a landfill. Best of all, it’s only $14 on Kickstarter right now

If you’re a big fan of Apple products, and own an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPod headphones, the Gaze Tray is your dream come true. It’s essentially a wireless charging pad that’s designed to juice up all of your Apple devices simultaneously. It has a spot for your phone, your watch, and your headphones, so all you have to do is plug it in (presumably on your night stand), and plop all your iDevices into their corresponding spaces on the pad. No more fiddling with cables or trying to cram all your chargers into a single outlet.

“It’s not all about the chargers,” the creators say on their Indiegogo page. “Keep any accessories organized in a 264 cm storage tray, alongside your treasured devices. Perfect for your sunglasses, car key, wallet and more! And Gaze Tray is smaller than a sheet of paper, making it easy to take with you and go. Know at a glance whether your devices are charging properly or not. Each of the three wireless charging zones has its own LED indicator, color-coded to let you know if your watch needs to be repositioned or your AirPods are finished charging.”

When we first came across this project on Kickstarter, we thought it was BS. A faucet aerator that creates nanobubbles that kill germs? Sounds like grade-A nonsense — but apparently it’s not. We looked into it, and there’s actually some legit scientific evidence that suggests nanobubbles are actually an effective way to neutralize bacteria and break down harmful chemicals — and Minible S allows you to make them effortlessly on your home faucet.

“MiniBle S is a thumb-sized faucet aerator that can upgrade the quality of our home water usage,” the creators explain. “Installed on the average faucet, water flows through the MiniBle S and is filled with abundant amounts of nanobubbles, which are able to achieve the effects of cleansing, bacteria killing, and food preservation. Unlike ordinary water, water that flows through MiniBle S is filled with nanobubbles that burst and create instantaneous high temperatures of 5500C and high pressurelasting less than 3 milliseconds and harmless to humans, but effective in killing bacteria and breaking down chemicals such as pesticides and detergents.”

If you sleep with a partner at night, you’re probably well aware of the tug-of-war phenomenon that occurs when one person pulls the covers to their side of the bed — thereby prompting a pull back in the opposite direction. It’s probably one of the most common annoyances that you have to deal with when you’re in a relationship — but what if you didn’t have to deal with it at all? What if sheets were designed specifically to address the tug-of-war problem?

That’s where Evret comes in. Thanks to a clever magnetic connector system embedded in the duvet, it’s capable of splitting apart to become two separate blankets when you and your partner start tugging at it. Better yet, the duvet is also designed to accommodate different levels of insulation on each side, so if you and your significant other prefer to sleep at different temperatures, you can make that happen.

December 30

Ever wished you could carry a printer around in your pocket? Probably not — but even though you never asked for it, somebody went ahead and created an inkjet printer that fits in the palm of your hand. Thing is, despite being so small, this printer is capable of printing things far larger than itself. Just wave it over the surface that you’d like to print on, and it will magically deposit ink onto it. It’s like one of those label-maker machines, but supercharged and not limited to printing on tiny strips of paper.

In the words of its creators, “the PrintBrush XDR is a wireless full color inkjet printer that weighs about the same as an average smartphone but can print larger imprints than its own size. With this device, it’s now possible to print anything in full color, anywhere, on almost any surface. The imprints are made simply by using a sweeping action, just swapping the printer’s direction from left to right or right to left, directly on any surface, be it paper, cardboard, fabrics, wood, etc.”

If you ever plan to visit different countries in a single trip, bringing along a universal travel adapter is crucial. Depending on where you land, the outlets are likely to be completely different than what you’re used to — which means you’ll need an adapter to juice up your electronics. Luckily, there are tons of universal travel adapters on the market. You can pick one up for under $20 on Amazon right now — but the thing is, most of them suck. Most of them aren’t equipped with fuses, and virtually all of them are bulky and inconvenient for travel.

Evo is an attempt to change that. Unlike most universal travel adapters, this one is designed to be slim, sleek, and travel friendly. In addition to a super clever form factor, it also features a fuse system. This means that if you plug into an outlet with a load that’s too high for your device, it it’ll blow the adapter’s replaceable fuse instead of frying your expensive electronics

Generally speaking, most insulated jackets use materials taken from (or inspired by) animals — like wool and down. But while nature-derived materials certainly do the trick, there are some man-made materials that are far better insulators. Take aerogel for example. Aerogel is a synthetic substance derived from a gel, which weighs nearly nothing, yet provides some of the lowest thermal conductivity of any material in existence. It’s so good, in fact, that NASA uses aerogel as the primary thermal insulation in space suits. The only problem? Harnessing aerogel for use in apparel has been a longstanding battle due to the friability of the substance, its sensitivity to water, and lack of ventilation.

Luckily, that’s beginning to change. Over the past few years, a small handful of apparel companies have sprung up with innovative new aerogel-filled outerwear. The latest to join the fray is Kistler, which has recently taken to Kickstarter to launch its line of aerogel jackets. “We’ve created an ultra-thin 3D-mesh composite of aerogel and advanced it to be thinner, lighter, flexible and more breathable than traditional aerogel technology,” the creators explain on their Kickstarter campaign page. “The Kistler Series R uses the first single-layer aerogel composite, which is a revolutionary way to incorporate aerogel into clothing production.”

A proper home theater system can be pricey, and more than a bit complicated. You need a TV, speakers, and enough space to set everything up. What if you could get all those things in one package? That seems to be the promise of the Docoy all-in-one home theater system, which combines an HD projector, speakers, and an Android operating system in one compact cube.

Weighing less than five pounds, Docoy is compact and easy to move around — so you can take it wherever you go and set it up practically anywhere where there’s a blank space for projection. According to the creators, it’s capable of projecting images up to 300 inches wide in 1080p. The box contains a pair of 3W speakers for immersive sound, whether watching movies or simply listening to music. Best of all, thanks to the fact that it comes with a built-in Android operating system, you’re free to download your favorite media streaming apps directly onto the device, without having to plug in any sort of streaming stick or box.

Snacking on insects might sound like an outrageous idea at first, but once you start looking at the facts, it starts to make a whole lot of sense. Due to rampant population growth, scientists predict that global demand for meat will double by the year 2050. That’s a demand that we just can’t meet. The cattle industry already accounts for roughly 50 percent of our water use, and crops used for cattle feed take up 10 percent of our arable land. In other words, the time has come to start exploring alternative sources of protein.

That’s where SixFoods comes in. This burgeoning startup aims to alleviate the problem with a line of bug-based foods — the latest of which happens to be protein powder supplement. The company’s proprietary blend is reportedly crafted from “simple and delicious ingredients such as pea, brown rice, chia seeds, and the star of the show, *drum roll please* nutrient dense crickets. These little bugs pack a lot of power, with only 4g net carbs, all 9 essential amino acids, and 59% of your daily value of B12 in every serving.”

December 23

If you’re a professional photographer — or just a passionate hobbyist — you probably take pictures wherever you go, even if you don’t have a computer handy. That can pose a problem when it comes to storing your photos. Maybe you need to get them to a coworker quickly, maybe you accidentally dropped your SD card in the woods; a lot of things can happen to destroy your photos before you’ve had a chance to back them up to a hard drive. The Cambuddy Plus can help. It’s an attachment that grants your camera Wi-Fi, GPS, and 4G LTE connectivity, so you can instantly back up any photos you take to cloud services, and in RAW format no less.

DT’s Hillary Grigonis says: “Wi-Fi add-ons allow cameras without connectivity the option to connect to a smart device, but with most new models building Wi-Fi inside, the accessories are becoming less popular. Bluetooth-equipped models allow for auto-backups, but only with low-resolution files. The Cambuddy Plus uses 4G LTE, however, allowing for cloud-based backups while shooting. The 4G is also paired with high-speed 2.4G/5G dual-band 802.11 ac Wi-Fi with a maximum transfer speed of 10 MB/s.”

Air pollution is a serious problem in major cities around the world, and while people may think they are safe sitting in their cars, that’s not the case. Even within the confines of a car, contaminants still get in; the air quality can be even worse for people in cars than those walking or cycling, as fumes from nearby vehicles seep in and settle. In some big cities, air pollution is so bad that it hits one’s lungs as hard as smoking. The Roidmi P8S offers a solution.

The P8S is a Bluetooth enabled air purifier that fits on the rear seat of a car, turning on when you start the engine. It uses two centrifugal fans to quickly cycle air — the makers estimate it takes two minutes to cleanse a 3 square-meter interior — through four layers: a steel mesh filter, a HEPA filter, and a “nanoscale carbon filter,” which is ostensibly for filtering out substances like formaldehyde, as well as bad odors. The P8S can also run at a little under 36 decibels, making it about as quiet as a library.

If you’re interested in making electronic music, but don’t want to lug around a ton of equipment — or if you simply don’t have thousands of dollars to drop on a big synthesizer setup — consider Modal Electronics’ latest creation, the Craft synth 2.0. It’s an evolution of their previous Craft design, which required users to assemble it themselves. Now, it comes in a sleek, minimalist package that nevertheless cranks out some impressive sounds.

The Craft 2.0 has an 8 key MIDI keyboard, and includes both DIN and USB MIDI connections, so users can plug it into a variety of devices. Users can experiment with 16 oscillator modifiers, 40 morphable waveforms, and the most immediately fun component, a sequenced arpeggiator. Best of all, you can charge it through a micro USB connection.

Want pets to bring a touch of nature to your home? Cats and dogs are traditional pets, and they’re fine — warm, furry, a little cliche though — but wouldn’t you prefer something a little stranger, like a writhing mass of mealworms? The Hive Explorer is an Arduino-powered, mechanical ecosystem for raising mealworms. It contains chambers for each stage of the worms’ life cycle, from inconspicuous egg to humble worm to majestic beetle. The Hive includes a heating plate to keep the insects warm, a fan to regulate humidity, and a HEPA filter to eliminate odors.

Now, you may be wondering why you would want a flourishing mealworm colony. The Hive offers a lot of benefits. You can feed the worms leftover food, cutting down on your food waste, and the worms will deposit their waste in a fertilizer chamber, at which point you can harvest it and fertilize any plants you might have. The Hive is also a great learning tool for kids, enabling them to study the life cycle of insects and sustainability, perfect for budding entomologists. Finally, well, insects might be the food of the future, as they provide a lot of protein and have a much lower environmental impact than livestock. When the bombs fall, and civilization lies crumbled beneath a darkened sky, your mealworm collection might provide the long lasting sustenance you need.

Have you ever stared up at the night sky, gaze spreading out out across the distant, raging fires of stars long dead, and wished you could capture that image forever? Unfortunately, cell phone cameras aren’t equipped for nighttime photography, and even a typical digital camera probably won’t be enough. That’s where the Nano1 comes in. It’s a tiny — the makers call it the world’s smallest astronomy camera — device that can nevertheless capture exquisite photos of the night sky.

The Nano1 has a dual lens mount system, so you can attach both a small M12 lens and a larger cinema lens or even a telescope. The Nano1 also throws in some quality-of-life features for the modern photographer. An augmented reality map on your smartphone shows you the precise locations of stars and constellations so you can line up the perfect shot of Orion’s Belt, and the Nano1 can automatically upload your photos to social media platforms.

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